Book Reviews

Book Review: MEMENTO MORI by Ruth Downie

Book Review: MEMENTO MORI by Ruth Downie

 

Memento Mori (in stores on March 6, 2018, from Bloomsbury USA) is the eight installment of British crime author Ruth Downie's Medicus mystery series, focusing on the (mis)adventures of the second-century CE doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso. Along with his former slave-turned-freedwoman wife, Tilla, his best friend, Valens, and loyal former clerk, Albanus, Ruso treks across the Roman Empire. All he wants is a peaceful existence, but Ruso manages to find trouble on his doorstep wherever he goes...

I have always been an avid fan of Roman historical mysteries. I regard them as important entrées into loving Roman history for armchair historians-cum-sleuths. Readers might pick up a Roman mystery for the fast-paced adventure and stick around for following volumes because the author constructs engaging characters and makes history accessible. Lindsey Davis's Falco, Rosemary Rowe's Libertus, Steven Saylor's Gordianus, and David Wishart's Corvinus are just a few Roman detectives whose adventures have, to varying degrees, captured my interest over the years.

Ruso, however, has been a polarizing character for me. His initial appearance, in 2008's Medicusmarked Downie as one to watch; Ruso's world-weary yet kindly manner proved to be engaging, his involvement in Roman Britain intriguing. But as the series continued, Ruso became more of an exasperated, "why me?" type, rarely showing any emotion beyond annoyance; his attitudes towards the native Britons grew increasingly superior and condescending. Each book became more of a challenge for me to follow. But things change, as they do in Memento Mori.